It’s never been a practice of mine to blow smoke up someone’s rear so they can feel better about being unemployed. My approach is a pretty pragmatic one. If you’re not working, aren’t financially independent and have full responsibility for taking care of yourself, then you need to make some money and/or get a job. For most people, their level of urgency is inherently driven by their financial circumstances. If you don’t have a source of income and need one, then waiting for a perfect job doesn’t really make sense. Your circumstances require urgent attention. Another reason to make a case for urgency is that, typically, the longer someone stays unemployed, the longer it takes to get reemployed. Like perishable goods, your value diminishes with time.
The goal here is easy enough to figure out, but a strategy is required, and your plan for reaching your goal needs to be carried out. Wishing for a job, hoping you will get one or only talking about what you want, doesn’t make it happen. Developing a strategy for getting where you want to be will lead to the development of your plan. Although the exact details may not yet be clear, you can start by moving random thoughts from your head into something tangible. First assess your finances and know what you need to earn and when. (Not what you want, mind you, what you need.) Then assess your interests, skills and marketability. If you don’t know how marketable your skills are, you can research this on your own or get help from a career coach or mentor. Next, outline some options and research the validity of each. This research needs to be planned with your end goal in mind. Break your plan into actionable items that can be accomplished each day and enter these tasks into your calendar. Then take action immediately!
Wishing for a job, hoping you will get one or only talking about what you want, doesn’t make it happen.
While you are conducting your research, other options outside of what you have considered may surface. You could receive suggestions about possible roles that have not yet been on your radar. Having a strategy and a plan can show you what generally makes sense. Although urgency is good, recklessness and desperation are not. Taking absolutely anything when it is not connected to where you want to go can lead you away from your long-term goals. If not connected in some way to your long-term goals, the wrong role can cause intense dissatisfaction that ultimately leads to more unemployment. There really needs to be a connection between your need for income, what you do about it and how it relates to your longer-term goals. If something very relevant, doable and immediate presents itself, you need to act right away. For someone who is serious about changing their circumstances, it means making hay while the sun shines (how corny is that?) and jumping on every strong lead as if it is the only one. Why? Because you can’t turn down work or a job that hasn’t been offered! Taking your time to respond may lead to a missed opportunity.
Focusing on how a role could in some way lead to perfect is far more productive than being stuck on the fact that it is not perfect. You may not be ready or marketable for your idea of a “perfect job.” Waiting around until one turns up is wasting time. It’s much easier to move yourself in the right direction once you are off the bench and in the game. (I don’t think I’ve seen any sports teams pull people from the stands and onto the field when it was time to press forward.) That means you need to be up, prepared and on top of each lead before the next 500 people respond. It means you need to turn over every rock and give every possibility your best shot. It is only after you get an offer that you have a choice about what happens next. Once that is accomplished, you can move forward with the rest of your plan.
If you think responding with “urgency” is a few days or weeks after you learn of something, think again. It’s always been a curious thing to me that unemployed people may sleep until noon and take Mondays, Fridays and weekends off when they are down to their last dime. It’s even more curious when they have broadcast their desire for a job to anyone who will listen but end up taking days to respond to an email from someone who has offered helpful information. If this sounds like anything you could be guilty of, please rethink what you need and what you expect. Your demonstration of urgency is far more likely to gain the help of others, and your excitement to respond to an employer’s need may put you ahead of the pack. Waiting until you are done with your long weekend or vacation, or procrastinating while you “think about it,” could make your response no longer relevant.
Finally, if you are simply stuck, get help. Don’t languish in your own confusion. The clock is ticking.
If you have cultivated the belief that only the “lucky” people get the best jobs, please consider how much power you have given up and the amount of time you have wasted by believing that getting a good job is out of your control. I’m not disputing the fact that it may be more of a case of who you know than what you know, but believing that all you need is that “big break” is missing the mark. Even the best opportunities can result in a big goose egg if the people pursuing them take their relationships for granted or assume that an introduction is all that is needed.
Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not substitute for your being able to articulate your value…
There is considerable work to be done, even when you do know the right people. It is still critical to make sure you show up as the most qualified, likely to fit with the team, excited and invested candidate an organization considers, regardless of how you get there. Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not compensate for your being unable to articulate your value or live up to the hype that came before your meeting with the hiring team.
It is striking to me how many people still believe that all they need is “to get an interview,” with little thought of their need for preparation. The mindset that all a person needs is a fancy resume to get in front of someone and the rest of the interview process will be a wrap, sadly, still exists. To my frustration, I regularly receive after-hours emails with this request: “I have an interview tomorrow morning. Can you send me some tips?” This out-of-touch belief that getting in front of a hiring manager and ad-libbing your way through the interview process will work is as outdated as dial phones and decidedly less effective.
Maybe this analogy would help: You have always dreamed of travelling by car across country to visit historical sites. It’s the first of July and you’ve suddenly been granted three weeks of paid time off beginning the following week. Would you wait until after you start your 6,000-mile road trip to check your tires and oil, water and antifreeze levels? Would you leave without a map or a plan of what you want to see?
This may sound foolish, but not more so than accepting a referral to the hiring manager for your targeted position at your organization of choice without having prepared for the impending conversation. Regardless of how many praises were sung on your behalf, you will still be required to relate your knowledge of the organization and its mission, illustrate your value using examples of your relatable experience and explain why you left your last job or why you are changing industries/roles/directions, if that is the case. Conversations about all of these points require thoughtful preparation and are unlikely to be handled successfully if you’ve waited until the night before to think about them.
It could be your dream job, which you exactly match, leveraged by a referral from your best friend who is the brother/sister/cousin of the hiring manager — and all of this could become moot in minutes if you show up ill prepared. In addition to blowing the opportunity, you run the risk of harming the reputation of the person who referred you and burning a bridge with someone who may be very important to you. If you are wondering who would do that, I’m here to tell you that I see it every week and can only shake my head in disbelief. To avoid experiencing a less than favorable outcome, make sure you do the most you can to research, prepare and practice in advance of asking for a referral of any kind. Make sure you are ready to shine and are representing your contact well. Showing up as the “perfect fit” for the opportunity in question is a win-win for everyone.
Let’s face it – although as humans we are each unique, in the workplace, most of us are dispensable. Keeping up with what is current or relevant is difficult for people in all sectors, industries and roles. Technology changes every day, which leads to changes in demand and/or processes, and ultimately, impacts everyone in the workplace.
Change is tough for most people and tougher for some than others. Finding ways to work through it, and with it, will typically contribute to more fruitful results than choosing to buck the system, when you are faced with something new. Some changes end up being minor enough for you to simply catch on and carry on. In those cases, practicing the new step, different process or new tool will help make it familiar to you and perhaps make your work far easier in the long run.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy. If you have seen the handwriting on the wall, it’s pragmatic to figure out your next move before you are faced with irreconcilable differences. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away and waiting only makes it more difficult to gain the inertia to make the right next move. Use the energy you still have to work on the steps you can take to move yourself in a new and perhaps even better direction.
If what you do as a function is no longer needed, then it is possible that the handwriting has been on the wall in neon letters for a long time. It’s time to take the reins back and determine what you will do about it. If you have planned ahead, then maybe retirement is a sound option. For many of us, retirement has stretched into a hazy notion of life that may occur far into the future. Financial setbacks, health issues and family crises can really change the course of things. If working for pay is still necessary, there are steps you can take that will help limit the anxiety of making a change or moving ahead. Blaming your age isn’t going to change your circumstances. Embrace who you are and what you can do today – let go of what used to be. The following tips can help you get ahead in the process.
Pay attention to what is needed. Read industry periodicals or the news. Stay on top of developments in your field and the skills that are in demand. If your skills aren’t current, training/education may be an option, or it may simply be time to see where else your skills apply. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do and test your assumptions.
Adjust your brand. If you’ve been known as the big man on campus but intend to scale down, then scale down your brand altogether. Adjust your image to suit the intended audience. It is not uncommon for people to move into a later-in -life career that is not as powerful as they once were. Staying with the old image can overshoot what it is you want to do. Hearing “you’re overqualified” may soothe your ego, but it isn’t going to help your pocket book if you are not offered the position you have interviewed for. You need to SOUND excited about whatever it is you will be contributing to and you need to LOOK like you are the best in class to do it. Make sure your references, friends and family are able, willing and ready to speak to the “new” brand when people inquire. If you are starting something new and have things to learn, then show how willing, able and ready you are to give it your all.
Adjust your approach. If you are downsizing, then lighten your resume. Soften your speech. Don’t overshoot what you want to do – match it. More does not automatically mean better; it can sound like “too expensive”. If only two years of experience is required, then 20 is overkill. Don’t include dated, irrelevant years. Talk about the things you want to do. If you really don’t want to manage, then don’t dwell on when you used to manage. Focus on the skills that are needed to do the job. Having more of something unrelated doesn’t make up for the lack of the basic skills that are required to do the job. Make sure you can do what they need and that you are ready.
Adjust your brain. Stepping back can mess with your head if you let it. Don’t compare yourself with what you used to do or to others that are in a different place in their lives. Embrace the direction you want to transition into whether it is moving up or moving toward retirement. If you are starting over and still want to rise to the top again, then get excited about it. The process won’t take another 20 years.
Don’t take shortcuts. Throwing resumes at jobsites rarely works for people that are transitioning into new careers or different directions. Job posts typically are written with a “check-the-box” intent. Trying to match specific experience/skills can leave you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Talk to people. Ask questions. Find out what is needed and act sincere about your interest. Working from the inside of the company with known advocates will increase your chances of someone learning just what a great fit you can be – even if all their boxes aren’t checked.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Make the most of your contacts and conversations. Just because the information you are getting isn’t providing you with “the answer”, collect the data and look at in in a new way. Don’t dismiss leads because you think a position is too low on the totem pole. Taking a stand against something that could lead to the right path could turn out to be irreversible later.
Let go and look forward. The past is the past. You are doing you in the here and now. Who can you grow into once you have overcome the challenge at hand? Figure out how conquering an adverse situation now can help you in years to come.
Looking down instead of ahead can cause you to end up with your head hitting a brick wall or getting sideswiped by a car you didn’t see coming. The same devastation can happen with your career if you don’t know where you are going and don’t have a plan. If your plan is nothing more than to continue doing what you are doing and expect everything else around you to remain the same, then ever-changing business needs may leave you in a ditch.
For some people, not having goals can feel like freedom. For others, it can create considerable confusion and waste energy. It’s common to assume that once you have landed a job, all you have to do is show up every day to live happily ever after. Those days are long behind us. The promise of the gold watch and stars for attendance are as obsolete as dial telephones. One way to take control over where you end up is by being clear about what you want, making your own decisions about where you want to be, researching to find out how that can happen and being very, very clear about what you can do to make sure you get there.
Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it.
Today’s work environment is less predictable than in the past, more susceptible to quick changes and less likely to present a clear path for moving forward. Economic needs change, business/organizational needs change and all the players involved can change in minutes. Unless you have a clear vision of the things that matter most to you, it’s easy to get distracted, become disillusioned and feel dejected when your circumstances change. Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it. Changes may cause you to alter your path, learn new skills or even jump ship, but your goals will continue to be the beacon that guides you in the right direction, even if the context changes.
Freedom can be experienced by knowing what you want and being so aware of what is going around you that you can make changes on your own before decisions are made about what will happen to you. Recklessly bouncing around between whatever presents itself next, without a clear notion of what is important to you, can lead to decisions that derail your career or work against your values. In the short term, some opportunities may seem exciting or pay well, but after digging further and learning more about the organization, industry or path you are superficially drawn to, you may learn that things are much different beneath the surface than what you were aware of. Differences in opinions or values at the highest level of the organization can end up shifting the culture completely. Financial issues can disrupt the course of business in a flash.
Sometimes sexy jobs can end just as quickly as they were developed if there isn’t a clear path to what they need to produce to be sustainable. As an example, being paid lots of money may be attractive until you learn that budgets were mismanaged and you are now out of a job entirely because drastic cutbacks are the only way to rectify the errors. As you look at all the elements of a work scenario to determine what is critical to your well-being, you may find that money is not really the most important element. It may prompt you to think before leaping ahead to “what looks too good to be true” and take a second look at options that might not be as glamorous but may offer a higher percentage of the criteria that matters to you overall.
Having clearly defined goals is powerful. Having fundamental goals that represent who you want to be in this world and what you want to get out of your life helps keep you on track. Helplessness turns into hopefulness. The clearer you are about what matters to you, the better you will be able to ask questions to learn if potential situations are right for you. Gaining the right information long before you are pressed to make a critical decision allows you to make powerful choices. Having a direction, hope and a plan can be the fuel you need to change your own reality. Take back control of your life and set some goals.
Recently I read a “success story” written by someone who was very proud of their networking efforts to get a new job. They had simply sent their resume to a handful of recruiters and waited to see what came back. In a matter of weeks, an interview was arranged and they accepted a contract position. The problem is that they had not learned much about the company in advance of the interview and only knew what the company’s website stated. Essentially, although the company was well known, they were offered a position with a company whose internal processes, politics and culture were all areas they knew little about. I am not so sure this really fixed their problem.
It’s been my experience that if someone is already working and wanting to jump ship, contacting external/agency recruiters and relying on them to “fix the problem” is limiting and not typically a long-term solution to someone’s employment dilemma. You may be offered a different role, but there is no guarantee that the fit will be any better than the one you are leaving behind.
Contacting recruiters as your only job-search effort is a passive approach and, in my estimation, can’t really be considered networking. Recruiters will tell you what they need to tell you, not what you need them to tell you. In contrast, if asked the right questions early on, your network will share inside information and provide a real-world view of what is needed to succeed in a role or in the company overall. Researching organizations through your extended network takes time and is not a project that should be relied on only when you are at the end of your rope with your current employer.
Networking — staying in touch with people —and showing interest in them by asking questions about their circumstances takes time and consistency. Through the process, you are able to learn much, much more than you will by a biased third party who stands to make money off of your new employment. Insiders can advise you about a potential opening before an external recruiter gets involved. The insider’s referral of you, at no cost to the employer, results in the company saving money and will more likely produce a relationship that works. Why? A simple answer: Someone who has worked for a company knows what works and what doesn’t. They are also not likely to recommend someone who will make them look bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing recruiters. Recruiters are extremely useful to employers when they have carefully screened and matched candidates with the right roles. They do a great job for employers. But that’s just it. They get paid by the employer, so their loyalty is with them, not with you. On the flip side, although an insider can answer the questions for you that a recruiter can’t (or won’t), a referral without credibility is meaningless. Your insider needs to know what you know and what you do, and how well you do it. So, essentially, the insider is taking the place of the recruiter, and with that comes some responsibility. It’s important that you really do fit and that you represent your contact well.
If you want a better job and a better workplace, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in research to make sure what sounds good really is good for you.
If you want a better job and a better workplace, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in research to make sure what sounds good really is good for you. Don’t wait until you are on your last nerve. Think long and hard about what you need and your investment in that outcome. Is it enough to consider any job offer a success? In this case, the “success story” I referenced, it is still too early to tell. Based on what I have learned about the company from several internal sources, I have doubts about whether this person will actually be able to adapt to the company’s high standards and performance expectations. I hope I am wrong.
It’s pretty understandable that people often go into a panic when they lose their job. The tough part is helping them remobilize and develop a plan for what happens next, instead of taking wild potshots at job postings in their quest to become reemployed. Many times a candidate gets so focused on “getting a job” that they start to believe they will magically find and secure a job in one stroke. (Imagine a hunter with a spear facing a charging bear.) The problem with that kind of approach is that, in this case, the hunter is typically blinded by fear and their thinking is full of unrealistic expectations. In this “get-a-job-or-die” mode, they lose all ability to see the steps involved with what is actually a fairly complex process.
The very nature of this tunnel vision impacts their hearing and ability to reason. Excellent (but perhaps not obvious) opportunities may be missed because the candidate is so focused on finding a j-o-b that they forget to listen for clues that could allow them to negotiate w-o-r-k for a price. The linear thinking process that follows a path leading only to posted jobs and submitting resumes, then waiting to be called for an interview where they will miraculously be getting an offer, is out of step with the way most great jobs are uncovered and captured by ordinary people (i.e., people without unique or hugely in-demand skills). Anyone can play the odds by responding to job ads, but it is not likely going to be a “lucky” hit that makes the difference in the outcome. The really cool jobs, in cool companies, working with cool people, are uncovered through conversations with people in the know, inside those same cool companies.
the process for uncovering clues about work is not linear
Keep in mind, the process for uncovering clues about work is not linear, and although information can be patched together through research, there is not an absolute, surefire or solo way to gather data that can unearth clues to base your action plan on. It requires an ability to look at the big picture and fully understand an employer’s circumstances and needs. You have to be willing to hunt for clues about how you can contribute in a way that may not have been completely identified yet or posted. Or, if there is a posted opening, you need insight about the people you would be working with and familiarity with the work to be able to appear as an exact fit when you are brought in to interview.
Clues come from Web research, conversations and the news. There are multiple viewpoints to consider, add up and make new assumptions about. The linear thinker will run into walls if unable to skip steps or take a bigger view of what they may hear or read. Of course, a non-linear thinker may be able to imagine a viable big picture, but they can run the risk of getting lost because they may choose to skip the steps required to create a compelling case for being part of that big picture. You can’t assume your “friends” will automatically open doors for you without a clear understanding of where you fit and why.
A successful search requires the ability to create a strategy with a bigger picture in mind, while also attending to the detail required to carry out the plan for breaking in. (Now picture a jewel thief. The jewels are pretty, but it will take a lot of time and effort to figure out how to get past security and back out with the prize.) Job seekers often get caught in quicksand because they are hell-bent on following a process that doesn’t work and are unwilling to try different approaches or change their immediate goals. Becoming gainfully employed may take a variety of approaches or even completely different paths than what you had expected to take. The key is in keeping your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the realities around you. Be willing to take half steps or leaps that take you completely out of your comfort zone, if necessary. You can end up in a new place only if you do something that is different from what you have done before.
Beyond that, be willing to be awkward or even fail at the new approaches. Don’t give up because things don’t work the first time you try a different approach. It may have taken you 10–30 years to learn what you have always done, so we can guarantee you won’t learn or be comfortable with new approaches in just one shot. Don’t get pulled backwards by an apparent failure or rejection, and don’t default to your old process. Pick yourself up, ask for help to get back on track and get back in the saddle.
If you are thinking this is a dumb question, you may want to think again. Unless you are aware of the circumstances that led to your layoff or termination and are also very clear about your current market value, you’ll be unable to craft a strategy for moving forward. Although statistics may show there are more jobs available this year, what you actually do and how you do it will play a significant part in determining whether you will be selected for one of the more attractive jobs that are currently available. It takes more than an alluring resume or a newly acquired certification to compete in prime markets.
The first step in developing your strategy for becoming re-employed is to understand your former and potential employers’ perspectives.
Being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and working on the areas that have created challenges in the past will help you prepare for the pursuit of your next role or next project. No matter what you know how to do, a new employer (or customer) will still expect you to share examples of how you have applied your knowledge and will want to see evidence of the results you produced.
If you are ready to get to the root of the issues you may be avoiding and start to take a turn in a better direction, the following steps will help you get a handle on your search for work.
Set clear goals. Without a clear vision of what you want, it is impossible to develop a path for getting there. It also makes it very tough to know when/how to adjust, change gears or reprioritize. That doesn’t mean an employer needs to know that you plan on starting your own business; you simply need to deliver what they need while you are gaining the specific experience needed to be successful in running your own operation. When you are clear about what is required on both counts (your employer’s goals and your personal and professional goals), you have a much higher probability of delivering. You will also have more reason to stay in touch with what is actually going on around you. If you are spending too much time daydreaming about what you wish you could be doing, you’ll miss the opportunity to pick up necessary skills and run the risk of dropping the ball. Any way you look at it, dropping the ball has consequences. If you fall off track from what your employer wants, you can lose your job. If you lose your job and don’t have a clear idea of where you were headed when it happened, it will be extremely difficult to develop and present a convincing case to the next employer.
Evaluate past performance and influencers. Sure, every day is a new day. But pretending there has been no past is pretty naïve. You may have heard the old customer service adage that states: “you need to make 10 deposits into the “good deed” account to make up for a customer’s one bad experience.” This is true for employers as well. Unless you spend the time figuring out how to make up for a callous statement, missed deadline, lost account or publishing error, the memory of a mistake will be harbored indefinitely. It shouldn’t be a surprise when headcounts are dropping and you end up on the list if you have not made amends and then some. If you have adversary relationships with people and haven’t fixed things, their opinions can be louder than your transgression was. Know and own your actions that may influence your job/career security. Be prepared to face the consequences of a lapse in judgment or a mistake and be equally prepared to describe what you learned from it. Be willing to move forward with the understanding that you may have to make allowances for a scenario that negatively impacted your brand.
Find out what the companies/customers really need. Relying on what an HR department describes in a job posting or what your job description states is dangerous. Relying on superficial statements and not digging into the core of a company’s business purpose for your role or, for that matter, ignoring what a customer really needs can lead to less than desirable outcomes. The research you do into what had been needed in the past and what is thought to be needed now can be applied to what is really needed. Taking anything entirely at face value can lead to discrepancies. Ferreting out more precisely what a role entails puts you in a much stronger position to deliver value and makes you less likely to be caught off guard when any outside influences create the need for a sudden change. Use your network to help you stay aware of how valuable you are in your own company and how competitive you are in the marketplace.
Prepare examples of your results. Don’t be caught with your pants down when it is time for a performance evaluation or budget reviews. Be prepared to be specific about your accomplishments with a supervisor or potential customers. Either way, being prepared to describe your VALUE may be the points that save you from being thrown to the curb. Even though you may not be actively looking for something new, preparing statements that illustrate examples of your cleverness and ability to produce desired results, using the STAR process (Situation, Tasks/Actions and Results), will also prepare you for your next interview or discussion with a new boss if there is a change in management or the company is sold. Overall, the important message here is to know why things are happening to you and around you so that you can do the best job of picking yourself up by the bootstraps and moving on.
There are professionals who match people to jobs or business opportunities and others who connect people with similar interests. Professional associations or academic institutions may match mentors with mentees. All around us are opportunities to link people with people, or people to information. The success of these referrals is typically predicated on how much the referring party knows about each of the others.
Everyone wants to benefit from a referral in some way. Whether it is to gain new information, meet a key influencer, identify a useful service or secure new business, there is always something to be gained through an exchange of information. The risk involved to the referring party is whether the referred person represents them well or leaves a trail of evidence that questions the association.
Referrals can go south pretty quickly when the referred party fails to follow up or isn’t prepared for the requested outcome. The following are tips to help you become the person people are happy to refer.
Be reliable. If you are asking for something from someone, make sure you have demonstrated that you can be counted on to follow through if they deliver. Show up on time for meetings and deliver what you promise, on time. Trust is built slowly with many people, and seeing is believing.
Show an interest in others. Ask questions to learn more about people’s interests. Be an active listener. Make an effort to stay in contact with others. Send reminders and plan time to communicate with people you may not interact with regularly.
Be helpful. Find reasons why you CAN do something and fewer reasons why you can’t. Go the extra mile to arrange a carpool for a group of people, drive someone to their door or make a phone call on someone’s behalf. If you are requesting a referral to someone, make sure you are ready to return the favor in some way.
Be responsive. Follow up quickly when others reach out to you. Make sure you are available to respond quickly when you have reached out to others. Manage your communication devices and use them to stay on top of things. Don’t let your email pile up and then use your full inbox as the reason you haven’t responded to someone sooner.
Prepare. If you are making a request for a referral, research the person you are asking to be referred to or the company you would like to learn more about. Plan questions for people that indicate you have done your homework. If you offer a service, prepare in advance and anticipate new business.
Walk the talk. Soft skills are hard to measure. If you are claiming to be a great communicator, project manager or meeting facilitator, make sure you are visibly illustrating those strengths. Volunteer or take the lead at events that will allow you to show people what you can do and how you do it.
If you are wondering why your phone isn’t ringing with opportunities on the other line, take a look at how much effort you are putting into helping others get what they need. If you can do more for others, it is very likely you will be positioning yourself for others to be comfortable doing something for you. Are you modeling behavior that allows people to confidently refer you?
One of my challenges when working with someone in transition is to encourage them to move away from “titles” as a focus and help them to see the bigger picture. Titles don’t immediately translate to skills or value. They often are labels that far too many people take for granted as a reason to believe someone has done something reflected by their title, when under closer scrutiny, it is learned they have not.
The dot-com bust was indicative of how many people had lofty titles but in many cases were simply self-proclaimed “leaders” with little connection to the actual scope of work that a title might reflect. Without the context (budget, size of team, territory covered, business segment), a title doesn’t automatically translate to value to the next business. A person may ultimately call themselves anything they want, but if what they have done and what they can do don’t translate to what is needed by the new employer or the new customer, then it is likely that disappointment will follow.
It’s tough to make a transition when the focus is on titles. Examining the “work” someone does rather than what they are called can lead to far more opportunities to discover new or different directions. It exposes skills that may be easily transferred, and it presents new pictures of what can be fun and new, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater or spending a fortune on brand new skill building.
Too often people are swayed by Internet statistics connecting salary data to titles that may in fact represent work that is far different from what the candidate imagines. A “project manager” or “program manager” in one industry or in one sector may be completely different from what the same title reflects in a different industry or sector. The compensation details may also reflect unrealistic or unattainable circumstances for a specific person’s skill set, experience and actual capabilities. The qualifier here is that even “skills” may read the same on two people’s resumes, but how they are manifested can be entirely different.
So, what does this mean to a job seeker or an employer reading a resume, or even to a consumer seeking the assistance of a professional? It means that each person needs to be fully aware of the context of their needs or expectations. Research can be done to determine when a “title” actually reflects the work that is needed or if it is something entirely different from what is expected or needed. Beginning with a reporter’s five key questions (what, where, when, why and how) and combining the answers with insight into someone’s motivation can produce considerably more information than titles, current compensation or costs of services.
Where, what, when. Context and scope can (and most likely will) change the value of a person’s role and relevance of their experience: the industry, size of company, number of direct reports, budget, specific years and geographic location. The types of customers a businessperson has been involved with and the economic conditions they have worked in may also influence their expertise and competence.
What and how. If you are a job seeker, it’s important to find out exactly what the actual work will entail. If you are thinking of changing roles, ask someone in the role you are considering to describe their work and whom they interact with. Be prepared to provide an employer with concrete examples of relevant work to illustrate your skills. If you are seeking help from a business, you may want to ask the service provider to describe their typical clients and the services they have offered others to determine how successful their services will be for you.
Why. Asking an employer about their greatest challenges may help produce insight into information that is unpublished in a job description. Alternately, asking a candidate to describe their goals may also reveal information that contradicts information found on their resume. Service providers may have websites that define why they do what they do, but if not, it is a reasonable question to ask. The answer to any version of “why do you do what you do?” is a good indicator of someone’s investment in continuing in the same direction or why they might be driven to do good work. An incomplete or vague response can reflect apprehension or lack of commitment, which can also lead to less-than-satisfactory results.
Proof. Make sure that all that you think is true is true. Look for published information and listen for unpublished information. Ask for references. If you are a job seeker, talk to employees who are currently working for a company and employees who previously worked for the organization. Balance the answers you get with what you need and want, using your perspective about what is most important.
Overall, don’t be fooled by titles or by smoke and mirrors. You’re making an investment that is important to you, no matter which side of the fence you are on. Make it a good one.
The news is filled with pleas to the public to be better “prepared” following a terrible event. Disaster. Emergency. Storm. Flood. Earthquake. Recession. Unfortunately, these events occur pretty frequently, so it is reasonable to believe that being prepared means setting ourselves up for the worst to happen. That might seem obvious, but on the flip side, how prepared are you for the best to happen? If the opportunity you have been dreaming about and waiting for were to suddenly materialize, are you prepared to grab that brass ring? What are you doing right now to be ready when opportunity knocks?
Recognizing you want something to be different is the first step. Getting ready to seize an opportunity requires having an awareness of what has to change to allow something different to happen. To ensure your “dreams come true,” it is necessary to connect the dots between your desired goal and the things you can do to get there. Sometimes the gap between where you are and where you want to be might seem insurmountable and that only a miracle can change things. But just as people are able to overcome the odds against surviving a catastrophic event, you can shorten the distance between where you are and where you want to be by changing the things that are in your control. That means changing your own behaviors and habits so that you are ready to respond when opportunity strikes.
One of the single most glaring reasons I see people stay unemployed or remain in less than their desired role is that they “assume” they have time to get around to things or that some sort of miracle is going to take place. I hear a lot of grousing or wishing for a change while observing behavior that contradicts what people say they want. Some people:
Don’t acknowledge info while they are “thinking” of what to say
Assume people will do what they say
Don’t follow up when information has been promised but not received
Aren’t prepared for introductions or interviews
Believe “it won’t happen to me” (layoff, termination, plant move)
Don’t believe “it will happen to me” (opportunity)
If you have previously missed opportunity, then it may be time to enlist some new behaviors. There are some very basic habits anyone can develop to help overcome complacency.
Manage communications. If you have sent a message to the universe, you’ve got to find ways to access your communications to acknowledge the response you receive in a timely way. It may mean checking email in the morning, lunchtime and evening or investing in a smartphone if matters are more urgent. It may mean visiting Starbucks to find a hot spot or going to the library. In today’s market, it’s critical to use technology to stay in touch, or make sure someone else can respond on your behalf if you are out of reach for 12+ hours and awaiting important news.
Respond within 24 hours. Even if you need time to think about the information you have received, it is critical to acknowledge your receipt. Show courtesy by thanking the sender and letting them know when they can hear back from you. Not responding until you have the “best” answer can appear unappreciative or downright rude to someone who has responded to what may have seemed an urgent request.
Manage your expectations and guide other people’s intentions. Most people are sincere when they offer to help. Unfortunately, even the best intentions get forgotten when someone’s focus is elsewhere. When someone offers to do something for you, follow up immediately with a confirmation of what and when. Make sure to provide them with any information they need to facilitate the offer to take action on your behalf. This could include a written introduction, a list of bullet points regarding the information you need or dates of important/relevant events.
Own the communication process. If someone has offered to send you information or make an introduction, set touch-back times to check in and gently remind them of the request. Don’t expect others to manage your needs. People get busy and things slip through the cracks. It is up to you to guide the conversations to ensure your needs are met.
Be careful what you ask for. Expect people to respond to your requests and be ready to follow up.
If you have been communicating a specific request to your network or the universe in general, you must believe it will happen. Keep your resume updated and make sure you are prepared for an interview or introduction to a key contact at any time.
Nurture your network. Make sure you are connecting with people on a regular basis. Ask questions about their circumstances or their interests. Find out what they are working on, worried about or challenged by. If you are able to assist them, by all means do so. If you can’t help, then prepare yourself in case you, too, may find yourself with similar issues.
Stay awake and aware. Pay attention to what is going on with your company. Take note of any indicators of a potential status change. If an important account is on the line, it could change the company’s financial picture. If there have been talks of a merger, be aware of what your value would be if roles are duplicated or the company were to close your location. If there is a drastic change in the market, be aware of how it impacts your business.
Take control of what you can, while you can. Following these suggestions will help you be prepared to make the most of that golden opportunity when it knocks at your door. It isn’t a mystery that opportunities always seem to come more readily to those who are prepared for them.